What are hashtags?

A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the pound sign (#), allowing you to organise content and track discussion topics based on your chosen keywords.

If you’ll join me for a little #ThrowbackThursday, you’ll find hashtags were invented by a Silicon Valley program developer in 2007 as a group organising framework for Twitter. Fast forward 12 years and the hashtag has been adopted across all social media platforms as a method of indexing keywords to help facilitate relevance in search results. They can feature in the caption or in the comments and are used on a variety of social platforms, most prominently on Instagram and Twitter

Why should you use hashtags?

1. Optimise discoverability

Hashtags are a handy tool to help unfamiliar users discover your brand. Whether you’re a new pasta joint capitalising on the #SydneyItalian hashtag (Ciao Ragazzi!) or a spirits distillery leaning into #craftspirits (Cheers Archie Rose!), hashtags assist digital communities in networking and discovering content that wouldn’t otherwise appear on their newsfeed.

2. Consolidate content

Hashtags were designed for filtering content around a particular topic. Anyone who clicks on a hashtag and searches for it will see a page with all posts including the aforementioned hashtag. That page sorts content into ‘Top posts’ and ‘Most recent’, based on how popular the post is, when it was shared and the strength of its audience. For brands, hashtags are a brilliant way to bring together groups of content relating to a specific product, venue or campaign – more on this later.

3. Follow trends

Whether it’s #accidentallywesanderson or #lovesummerhateeverythingelse , hashtags are a great way to tap into a broader social discourse. Adding your own unique commentary or spin to recent events, cultural phenomenon and even Internet memes (*shudders*) allows for interaction with followers, boosting engagement and contributing to overall likeability and authenticity of your brand’s tone of voice.

How to use hashtags:

There are three different kinds of hashtags:
Branded tags: Central tags that are posted in the caption of each post e.g. your venue name, #billsaustralia or campaign name, Fink Group’s #theBigNightOut.
Content-specific tags: Secondary tags that assist with discovery e.g. #breakfast, #toastie or #pickles.
Location & Community tags: Secondary tags that relate to where you are specifically and any interest-based communities you want to tap in to e.g. #bondi or #sydneybrunch

We suggest including your branded tag at the end of each caption. This should be followed by the first comment, which can include up to 10 other relevant tags based on the categories above, as a way of removing clutter from the caption. Take our recent work with bills Australia - a Sydney institution with three different locations. We use branded hashtags to group all relevant content under #billsaustralia in the caption and then another hashtag to differentiate #billsbondi from #billssurryhills in the first comment, as well as some targeted content-specific tags like #ricottahotcakes and #bondieats. Online services like RiteTag.com or Iconosquare offer solid suggestions on what hashtags will best benefit your brand based on usage, but it also pays to do your own research. What are competitors using, what are the most popular tags in your niche?

Our top tips for hashtagging:

It’s nice to be niche: The more specific the hashtag, the more targeted your audience will be. And a more targeted audience means a higher chance of quality engagement. Whilst your hashtag strategy should include the basics, say, #whisky, we encourage more specialised hashtags like #australianwhisky and #ryemaltwhisky.

Came for the content, stayed for the #lols: We love using hashtags to add humour and authenticity to a caption (more on building a tone of voice here!). If it feels right for your brand, play around with word choice, irony and sarcasm to create a #lol-worthy caption. It may not help build discovery, but it can add a nice playfulness which builds your brand personality.

Track your stats: If you’ve made the switch to an Instagram business profile, you have access to Post Insights, which tell you how many impressions your individual post received from hashtags. Use these analytics to streamline your hashtagging strategy, keeping track of the top performers and adjusting your list accordingly.

Keep it simple: Too many hashtags in a post can clutter your caption, detracting from its messaging or visual strength. Stick to one or two hashtags in the caption and a maximum of 10 in the first comment. Oh – and don’t try spaces, special characters or punctuation, they won’t work. Numbers and emoji on the other hand, do.

At the end of the day, we’re truly #blessed to have hashtags in our lives; a powerful driver of engagement, a handy tool to stay on top of trends and a beautiful facilitator of discovery and connection #notsp.

Can’t keep up? Get in touch to find out how we can help with your social offering. For more tips on how to nail online content, click this very link.

Make sure you sign up to the Buffet newsletter for more tips and tricks on content creation.